Case Studies in Disaster Response: Bad Events Can Offer Good PR

By Ashley Spinks, Communications Coordinator, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association

March 20, 2018

On March 13, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association Director of Communications Laura Withers delivered the presentation, “Crisis Communication: Turning Bad Events into Good PR” at WordSouth’s Story Connect Conference for Utility Communicators. The presentation featured representatives from two NTCA member telcos, Star Communications and YK Communications, who shared experiences via Skype videos about natural disasters that struck their respective communities, and how their companies responded to those crises.

The best thing companies can do to mitigate natural disasters is to forecast risk and have a crisis response plan in place before the event occurs. Small, local telecommunications companies have an advantage, as they often have existing relationships with local authorities and media outlets such as radio stations and newspapers—and they can leverage those relationships in times of crisis.

A well-trained team of employees can be a great resource when responding to customer service requests or inquiries about service interruption. Above all, it is important to keep everyone informed and to be empathetic, even when you can’t do much to immediately solve a problem. Both member companies that were featured during the presentation emphasized the usefulness of social media in keeping customers updated on progress after a natural disaster. 

Star Communications (Clinton, N.C.) saw its service area hit by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. According to Vice President of Sales and Business Operations Kyle Randleman, “Eighteen to 19 inches of water came down very quickly.” Most of the water systems in the area were wiped out, and water flooded Star Communications’ headquarters. Randleman said his first priority after the storm was to protect customer data. Star Communications kept paper records, which were literally floating through the hallways of the company’s building after the flooding. In the following video, Randleman details how Star employees cleaned up after the storm, and how the entire cleanup project was fueled by a sense of community that Star shared with its customers.

Ganado, Texas, also saw extensive flooding after Hurricane Harvey in the summer of 2017. YK Communications, which serves the area with broadband, managed to keep its network fully operational throughout and following the storm, according to President Russell Kacer.

Like Randleman, Kacer spoke of the value of social media in keeping customers informed. “We channeled as much information as we could through social media,” Kacer said.”We had crews working through the storm … [and] we started posting pictures of our technicians out in the field.” Kacer saw this as an opportunity to bolster the sense of community YK felt with its customers.

Watch the video below to hear about the many initiatives YK Communications took on in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, including wiring an emergency operations center at 4 a.m. to serve the surrounding community, earning the telco significant goodwill with customers.

Both stories demonstrate that preparedness and empathy are critical to effective disaster response, and that rural companies can leverage existing relationships to help ease recovery after a crisis.